Hello again humans. Joe the Cocker here reporting on an impromptu local walk with the old feller. Storm Brendan had passed but, later in the day, more high winds and rain was forecast so, we decided to squeeze a short local hike in. Yesterday we walked the Whitegate Way in Cheshire again. It was another twelve mile out and back hike. That route has already been the subject of one of my blogs and I decided not to bore you with a repeat description. Instead, I thought that I would bore you with today’s little jaunt. On a number of occasions of late I have been for a run around a park chasing a ball and when we returned home my ‘hudad’ decided to set out on a longer second walk of the day than usual. My dad already had his rucksack packed from yesterday so, it was simply a matter of choosing where to explore. He suggested we walk the Sutton Greenway and visit Dream in the Sutton Manor Woodland near St. Helens.
We parked just off Mill Lane on the northern outskirts of Widnes, just along the road from Notcutts Garden Centre. This produced a chorus of ‘Notcutts City Limits’ by Tina Turner. Thankfully, my dad realised the error of his ways and immediately stopped his ridiculous singing. Unfortunately, this was replaced by ‘Suspect Device’ by Stiff Little Fingers. A gentle little ditty from his dubious past. I think that he is regressing. Sorry, I digress. Back to the hike.
The Farnworth – Sutton Greenway follows a short length of the disused St. Helens and Runcorn Gap Railway that was constructed in 1830 to connect to the Liverpool – Manchester line from Runcorn. Carrying coal initially and later transporting cement, Ford cars and passengers until its closure in 1975. The surface is now compacted gravel and drains quite well with the mud only at the edges (which I found straight away!). The track initially, passes at the rear of a small housing development on the left with the previously mentioned garden centre on the right. After a couple of right-angled turns and through an ‘A-gate’ designed to slow/stop cyclists, the path opened up as a wide straight track disappearing into the distance. The path is a multi-use route for cyclists, horse riders and walkers. I would assume that it is wheelchair friendly also assuming that a wheelchair could squeeze through the cycle traps. I imagine that this is the case. My dad only just managed to prise his ever- widening beam through the gate thanks to the unbelievable amount of unhealthy food he has eaten through the extended Christmas overindulgence.
The trail was deserted, probably due to the impending rough weather and it being a Thursday in mid-January so, I was allowed to run off-lead. Within seconds I had an attack of the zoomies and I had to be put back on my lead. After I had ‘calmed down’ – yawn! – my lead was unclipped again. So, off I went into the brambles and bracken. At one time both my ears were caught in the brambles but, fortunately, I managed to break free before my cruel dad could grab a photograph. We both were stopped in our tracks as a buzzard landed in a tree only a few yards from us. It was another missed photo shoot as he fumbled to produce his phone. When he did finally manage to take his phone out of his pocket I knew what was coming next. Joe! Sit! Joe, sit! I had to pose while he attempted to be creative. All that I wanted to do was chew sticks and run around chasing stuff.
Soon we came to Bold Bridge which has the unfortunate distinction of being hit by a German bomb in 1918 dropped from a Zeppelin. The surrounding arable farmland looked saturated and the side paths looked decidedly muddy. Ideal for me but my dad was not impressed so, we stayed on the main track. We passed under two more bridges before the trail ended. The newest being the graffiti lined M62 underpass bridge. The noise from the traffic dominated the air as we left the trail and entered the Sutton Manor Woodland.
Sutton Manor Woodland is a reclaimed colliery site. The pit at Sutton Manor was closed in 1991 after five years of huge losses. However, many claim that there is still a substantial amount of coal reserves still mineable. Sixty miners died over the years of coal production here. The slag heaps have now been transformed into a large country park with a network of footpaths. Thousands of young trees were planted including alder, willow and ash. Plenty of trees for me to get lost in. Plenty of water filled ditches too. I had a ball. Oh yes, and I found a ball, a manky old tennis ball, that my dad would not let me keep. We headed upwards to the best kept secret in the area. Dream, a huge sculpture of a girls face on the highest point of the country park.
Dream stands twenty metres tall and pokes above the surrounding woodland. It takes the form of an elongated head of a nine-year old girl, eyes closed in contemplation and dream. ‘From the earth comes light’ or ‘Ex Terra Lucem’ comes from St. Helens town motto based around the coal and glass industries. It was the brainchild of the Catalan artist Jaume Plensa. We have visited this sculpture on many occasions and it still has the same impact. It is huge, beautiful, awe inspiring and surprisingly deserted. This is probably due to poor publicity in my dad’s opinion. My dad took his usual photographs where he attempted to get me to pose. This wasn’t happening today. I was having a good run around and enjoying my freedom.
We moved on and criss-crossed the woodland park with it’s ponds and streams full from recent downpours. Extensive views across the near and distant country were granted through gaps in the trees. If you can ignore the noise of the traffic from the nearby motorway the hillsides can be quite peaceful. Runcorn’s three bridges over the Mersey can be clearly seen as can the eight towers of Fiddler’s Ferry power station. To the south Norton Water Tower, Daresbury Van der Graff generator tower and the towns of Runcorn and Widnes can be seen. The North Wales hills in the south west and Rivington and Winter Hill to the north are also visible. I found another one of my favourite things, a plastic drinks bottle. It is another of my obsessions that my dad scolds me for picking up. So, I had a quick chomp on it and then left it on the track when he told me off.
I think that we walked all of the paths and side-paths within the woodland park before we headed back to the Sutton Greenway track. I was fascinated by a raven that was battling against the wind. If only it would have landed I would have taken it to where it was planning to go to. Ho ho! It was only about two miles back to the car. And guess what. There was rain in the air. Rain isn’t a problem for me but my dad likes to complain. He had all his waterproof clothing with him but it still didn’t prevent him from picking up the pace to avoid a downpour. We made it back just in time again. He seemed to be really pleased. I was muddy anyway and I would need a shower when I returned home.
It was a good afternoon’s hike. We walked approximately 8.5 miles and I had a good time exploring the bracken and gorse undergrowth. As usual I failed to catch a bird. I so hate birds. One day maybe. My dad won’t be happy if I do catch one but it’s in my DNA I reckon. That’s my excuse anyway. Till next time. An overnight camp in Snowdonia I think my dad said. Sounds good to me as long as I can share his sleeping bag. I am sure that he will let me.